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How to give feedback to students in the online learning environment

The educational process has suffered major changes in the past few months due to the pandemic that has spread around the globe. For many educators and students, this has been a bumpy road. But teachers are resourceful, students are resilient, and education can’t just stop. No matter how things will look like this fall, online instruction and learning will most probably be a significant part of education from now on.

Besides dealing with challenges such as a lack of tools or devices, faulted of training, or a digital school strategy that is under constant change, teachers need to keep their composure and continue to nurture the relationship they have with students. For this to happen, communication is paramount, and feedback is a great part of it.

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Feedback is necessary for any human activity, it regulates behavior and it is at the core of personal growth. Since face-to-face communication is a limited option for the time being, online feedback plays a crucial role in the learning process. Our students need feedback for knowledge building and improvement, both academically and personally.

Furthermore, feedback should be continuous and persistent throughout instruction, be that offline or online. In this way, students can improve their performance and achieve their goals.

How to give feedback to students in the online learning environment

As teachers, our primary goal is to show students our support and guidance throughout their learning process, and, now more than ever, they need to feel our presence to help them stay on track (or get back on it). Learners are different and the way they reach goals and master concepts differs from person to person.

As an educator, you have to know how to approach them, guide them, and, most of all, how to give feedback. To make your job easier, here are some tips for giving feedback to your students in the online environment:

  • Take baby steps

    When you set up the goals for your online class, make sure they are reachable under the current conditions. Don’t ask for too much at one time! In this way, you’re enabling your students’ continuous development and avoid major setbacks.

    This also allows you to take your time to provide feedback every step of the way for each student. Learners need feedback to be specific and continuous, not general and singular, in order to stay motivated and not fall behind.

    If you drop everything at once, it can be overwhelming for your students and may be counterproductive. In terms of content and goals to achieve, having too much to do could discourage them, and in terms of feedback, receiving it all at the end could be useless.

    So it’s safer to take baby steps, both with the goals you set and with the feedback you provide, to ensure the evolution you and your students want.

  • Personalize your feedback

    Students need specific feedback for specific tasks. Superficial feedback can discourage them and make them lose their motivation to study. Avoid saying “great job” or “not good enough”. Instead, pinpoint exactly what’s good or what needs more work, with examples and actionable advice for each task.

    Learners need you to be specific and show that you've read/watched/listened to their work. You can include some words they used to prove you really considered their contribution. This will boost their self-esteem and help them improve.

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  • Focus on changing the behavior

    Feedback has to focus on the behavior that needs to be changed, not on the student. While personalizing feedback is beneficial, directing it towards your students and not their work will backfire.

    When you give feedback with a focus on the behavior, students won’t feel offended or demotivated. They will be able to dissociate between themselves and their work and understand that they can improve it. By doing this, you contribute tremendously to increasing their perseverance, thus enabling them to reach their full potential.

  • Diversify your delivery

    The online environment allows us to be creative and use different ways and means to deliver feedback to learners. Written feedback is an effective solution for when you need to give short and concise feedback. However, for more complex or detailed feedback, you can make videos to get your message across using intonation, voice pitch, and gestures that written words cannot express. It’s a more humane approach actually.

    There’s also another option for giving feedback: by voice. While text feedback can be considered impersonal and video feedback can put a strain on teachers, audio feedback seems to be the best option because it balances the two. It allows your students to feel your presence and helps you to be more productive. It’s also a more time-efficient method than written feedback.>

Stay tuned!

Feedback is as important as instruction time, especially in the online learning environment. It’s really necessary for teachers to provide it continuously and concisely to students, adapted to each individual learner, and delivered in various ways, especially now when education has mostly moved online. Students need clear, small milestones to reach with constant support and guidance.

Since teachers are still human even in the online environment, we need to fully understand every nuance related to giving feedback. So stay tuned for our next post in which I talk about what I call the five Bs of feedback!